North Carolina State Capitol Tour

Part 2: The Sculpture

David Smitherman
14 min readDec 19, 2023

The North Carolina State Capitol has a number of beautiful sculptures of historic figures in the capitol and on the capitol grounds. Inside, the first and second levels of the Rotunda have semicircular alcoves, lined in stone, designed specifically for sculptural displays. The first floor alcoves are filled with sculptures by Frederick Ruckstuhl, and the second floor alcoves are empty, leaving room for future displays. The primary sculpture on display is of George Washington, in the center of the Rotunda, on the first level.

Interior Sculpture

Entering into the Rotunda from the east entrance is a sculpture of George Washington, 1732 to 1739, by the sculptor Antonio Canova. The original sculpture was completed in 1821, but destroyed in the 1831 fire. This replica was done by Romano Vio in 1970, using Antonio Canova’s original models for the project. The sculpture is unique for its’ depiction of George Washington, the first President of the United States of America, seated in a Roman general’s uniform, writing his farewell address to the Nation.

George Washington by sculptors Antonio Canova, 1821, and Romano Vio, 1970.

Antonio Canova, 1757 to 1822, was an Italian Neoclassical sculptor, born in Possagno Italy, where he grew up and worked as a stone mason and sculptor under his father and grandfather. He later studied under sculptors Giuseppe Bernardi, Giovanni Ferrari, and attended the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia in Venice Italy. He opened his own studio in Venice, and then Rome, where he studied the work of Michelangelo, and later in France. In the 1800s his popularity grew to include numerous commissions and honors across Europe. At the recommendation of Thomas Jefferson, Canova used a bust of George Washington by Giuseppe Ceracchi as his model of Washington, because Jefferson considered it to be the most realistic depiction available.

Romano Vio, 1913 to 1984, was an Italian sculptor and teacher. He was born in Venice and studied with Eugenio Bellotto at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice Italy, where throughout his career, between commissions, he would return to teaching.

In the alcoves facing Washington are sculptures of prominent figures in North Carolina history, Samuel Johnston, John Moorehead, William Graham, and Matthew Ransom, all by the sculptor Frederick Ruckstuhl.

Samuel Johnston, 1733 to 1816, was a planter, lawyer, statesman, and judge, during the American Revolution era. He represented North Carolina at the Continental Congress, and the United States Senate, later becoming North Carolina’s 6th Governor.

Samuel Johnston, and John M Morehead, by sculptor Frederick Ruckstuhl, 1911 and 1912.

John Motley Moorehead, 1796 to 1866, was a lawyer, statesman, and the 29th Governor of North Carolina. In 1861, he represented North Carolina at a failed conference to avoid the Civil War.

William Alexander Graham, 1804 to 1875, was a statesman, senator, and the 30th Governor of North Carolina. Graham was a Unionist and opposed secession, but after the Battle of Fort Sumter, he joined the secessionist and served in the Confederate Senate. In 1865, he partitioned Union General Sherman for a truce to spare Raleigh and the State Capitol from destruction.

William A Graham, and M W Ransom, by sculptor Frederick Ruckstuhl, 1909 and 1911.

Matthew Whitaker Ransom, 1826 to 1904, was a lawyer, statesman, and a General in the Confederate army.

Frederick Wellington Ruckstuhl, 1853 to 1942, was the sculptor for all four statesmen. He was born in France, but grew up in Saint Louis Missouri. He studied at the Académie Julian, and with Gustave Boulanger, Camille Lefèvre, Jean Dampt, and Antonin Mercié, in Paris France. In 1892, he opened a studio in New York City, and taught at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Schools. He is an author of the book Great Works of Art and What Makes Them Great, 1925, and is noted for creating Confederate memorial sculptures that contributed to forging the Southern ideology of the Lost Cause.

Displays of Prominent Minorities in the Capitol

There are no sculptures, or monuments to African Americans, Women, or Native Americans, but there are now many informational displays in the capitol noting their accomplishments in North Carolina history.

Lunsford Lane, 1803 to 1879, was a former slave in Raleigh, and later an abolitionist. His book, The Narrative of Lunsford Lane, 1842, provides first hand reporting on life as a slave.

Lunsford Lane in an 1863 publication by William Hawkins.

Handy Lockhart, 1795 to 1884, was a cabinetmaker, and built the desks for the House and Senate chambers. After Emancipation he served as a commissioner, and later as a magistrate.

Parker D Robbins, 1834 to 1917, was a Union Army soldier, inventor, and among the first Black state legislators in North Carolina.

Abraham H Galloway, 1837 to 1870, was enslaved in Smithville North Carolina, escaped to Canada, but in 1862 returned as a Union spy. He helped organize the 1865 Freedmen’s Convention, and served in the North Carolina state legislature.

Abraham Galloway, and Friday Jones.

Friday Jones, 1810 to 1887, was born into slavery, and after the Civil War, published his autobiography, Days of Bondage, 1883, providing a first hand description of his life as a slave in North Carolina.

Lillian Exum Clement, 1894 to 1924, was a lawyer, and an advocate for women’s rights. She became the first woman elected to the North Carolina General Assembly, which was also the first elected in any of the southern states.

Lillian Exum Clement, and Henry Owl.

Henry Owl, 1896 to 1980, was the first Native American to graduate from a North Carolina university. He was a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, served in the United States Army, and became a teacher, and an advocate for voting rights.

I see here several potential candidates for sculptures to be placed in the alcoves on the second level of the Rotunda.

Sculpture on Union Square, the Capitol Grounds

In front of the south entrance is a sculpture of George Washington, by Jean Antoine Houdon, and William J Hubard. The original sculpture by Houdon was created in marble in 1788, and stands in the Virginia State Capitol. William J. Hubbard made molds from the original, and cast serval bronze copies in 1857, this being one of those copies.

George Washington, by sculptors Jean Antoine Houdon, 1788, and William J Hubard, 1857.

George Washington, 1722 to 1798, was Commander of the Continental Army, and the first President of the United States. He is depicted here in a generals uniform, with a staff in one hand, and resting the other hand on a bound bundle of 13 reeds, representing the original thirteen colonies united.

Jean-Antoine Houdon, 1741 to 1828, was born in Versailles France, and studied at the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, with René-Michel Slodtz, Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, and at the École Royale des Élèves Protégés, in Paris France. He studied and work for a few years in Rome Italy, and then opened a studio in Paris. Houdon’s sculpture of George Washington was done by invitation from Benjamin Franklin, to cross the Atlantic and come to Mount Vernon, so Washington could pose for clay models and provide life plaster face masks. The results were used for a variety of sculptures.

William James Hubbard, 1807 to 1862, was born in Warwick England where he became a portrait artist. He traveled and worked in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and then in 1824, came to the United States and opened a studio in Boston, and later in New York City. His early work focused on portrait painting, and later branched out to include portrait sculptures.

Zebulon Baird Vance, 1830 to 1894, was a lawyer, Senator, a Confederate officer, and the 37th and 43rd Governor of North Carolina. His sculpture is by the sculptor Henry Jackson Ellicott, 1900.

Memorial to Zebulon Baird Vance, by Henry Jackson Ellicott, 1900.

There are relief sculptures on each side of Vance, also by Ellicott, depicting agriculture, and industry, with inscriptions for each reading as follows:

If there be a people on Earth given to sober second thought, amenable to reason and regardful of their plighted honor. I believe that . . . it is the people of North Carolina.

Vance Memorial reliefs, by Henry Jackson Ellicott, 1900.

The subjection of every passion and prejudice . . . to the cooler sway of judgment and reason, when the common welfare is concerned, is the first victory to be won.

On the reverse side are two more inscriptions reading as follows:

The country turns toward her young men, and calls them to lead the way in preaching and practicing hope. You are required, above all, to teach our people to look up from the crumbling ashes and prostrate columns of their present ruin, to the majestic proportions and surpassing grandeur of that temple which may yet, be built by the hand which labors, the mind which conceives, and the great soul which faints not.

Vance Memorial inscriptions.

Well and truly North Carolina performed her duty, as the result on many a stricken field will show. First and last she sent to the armies of the Confederacy, not relatively, but absolutely, more soldiers than any other state in the South; furnished more supplies, equipped her troops better . . . there was not a sacrifice which she was called upon to make for the good of the southern cause that she did not make, and make cheerfully.

Henry Jackson Ellicott, 1848 to 1901, was born in Annapolis Maryland, and studied at Rock Hill College in Maryland, Georgetown Medical College in Washington DC, and later the National Academy of Design in New York City with William Henry Powell, Emanuel Leutze, and Constantino Brumidi. He became a noted sculptor, architectural sculptor, and producer of Civil War monuments.

Worth Bagley, 1874 to1898, was a United States Navy officer from Raleigh, and noted as being the only officer killed in the Spanish-American War. The sculptor was Francis Erman Packer, 1907.

Francis Herman Packer, 1873 to 1957, born in Munich Germany, studied under Daniel Chester French, and set up a studio in New York.

Worth Bagley, by sculptor Francish Erman Packer, 1907, and Charles Duncan McIver by sculptor Frederick Wellington Ruckstuhl, 1911.

Charles Duncan McIver, 1860 to 1906, was a teacher and an educational statesman, promoting state supported teacher colleges. His sculpture is by Frederick Wellington Ruckstuhl, 1911, with this cast made by Eleftherios Karkadoulias in 1982.

Frederick Wellington Ruckstuhl, 1853 to 1942, created this sculpture of McIver in 1911, along with the four busts in the Rotunda, produced from 1909 to 1912.

Charles Brantley Aycock, 1859 to 1912, was a lawyer, teacher, and the 50th Governor of North Carolina, known as the Education Governor, and noted for traveling the country promoting education. The sculpture is by Gutzon Borglum, 1924.

Charles Brantley Aycock, by sculptor Gutzon Borglum, 1924.

John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum, 1867 to 1941, was born in Saint Charles, Idaho, known as the Idaho Territory at that time. He studied at the Institute of Art, the Académie Julian and the École des Beaux-Arts in France, and the California School of Design.

There are relief sculptures on each side of Vance, also by Borglum, depicting our founders, and education, with inscriptions for each reading as follows:

I would have all our people believe in their power to accomplish as much as can be done anywhere on Earth by any people.

Aycock Memorial reliefs, by Gutzon Borglum, 1924.

The equal right of every child born on Earth to have the opportunity to burgeon out all there is within him.

On the reverse side are two more inscriptions reading as follows:

Aycock’s Ideals of Public Service

“Equal! That is the word! On that word I plant myself and my party ~ the equal right of every child born on Earth to have the opportunity to burgeon out all there is within him.”

“No man is so high that the law shall not be enforced against him, and no man is so low that it shall not reach down to him to lift him up if may be, and set him on his feet again, and bid him Godspeed to better things.”

“There is but one way to serve the people well, and that is to do the right thing, trusting them as they may ever be trusted, to approve the things which count for the betterment of the State.”

Aycock memorial details.

Aycock’s Ideals for North Carolina

“I would have all our people to believe in the possibilities of North Carolina in the strength of her men, the purity of her women, and their power to accomplish as much as can be done anywhere on Earth by any people”

“I would have them to become dissatisfied with small things; to be anxious for higher and better things; yearn after real greatness, to seek after knowledge, to do the right thing in order that they may be what they ought.”

“I would have the strong to bear the burdens of the weak, and to lift up the weak and make them strong. Teaching men everywhere that real strength consists not in serving ourselves, but in doing for others.”

In front of the east entrance to the capitol is the sculpture, Presidents North Carolina Gave The Nation, by sculptor Charles Keck, and cast by the Gorham Company Founders. It depicts Andrew Jackson in the center on horseback with James Polk and Andrew Johnson to each side.

Andrew Jackson, 1767 to 1845, shown on horseback, was born in Union County North Carolina, and served as president from 1829 to 1837. An inscription reads, He Revitalized American Democracy.

James Knox Polk, Andrew Jackson, and Andrew Johnson, by Charles Keck, 1948.

James Knox Polk, 1795 to 1849, was born in Mecklenburg County, and served as president from 1845 to 1849. An inscription reads, He Enlarged Our National Boundaries.

Andrew Johnson, 1808 to 1875, was born in Wake County, and served as president from 1865 to 1869. An inscription reads, He Defended The Constitution.

Charles Keck, 1875 to 1951, was a sculptor, and an architectural sculptor. He was born in New York City, and studied at the National Academy of Design, the Art Students League of New York with Philip Martiny, and Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and the American Academy in Rome.

The Vietnam War Memorial is titled “After the Firefight”, by sculptor Abbe Godwin, 1987. It is a depiction of two soldiers, assisting a third wounded soldier, and includes a depiction of an African American, and a Native American. The face on the lead soldier is that of Jim Minish, an Army Vietnam veteran who served on the crew of a military helicopter.

Vietnam War Memorial, by sculptor Abbe Godwin, 1987.

Finally, the largest sculptural grouping on the capitol grounds is the North Carolina War Memorial, which is located on the north side of the capitol, and is dedicated to those that served in World War I from 1917 to 1918, World War II from 1941 to 1945, and the Korean War from 1950 to 1953. The sculptor was Richard H Amlung, and builder Joyner’s Memorial Incorporated.

Lady Liberty and the North Carolina War Memorial, by sculptor Richard Amlung, 1990.

The memorial includes the flags from each branch of service, with Lady Liberty on top of the central pedestal holding either a palm frond, a symbol of peace and victory, or a tobacco leaf, where North Carolina is a leader in its production.

World War I, World War II, and the Korean War, bas-reliefs, by sculptor Richard Amlung, 1990.

At the base are three relief sculptures depicting scenes from World War I, World War II, and the Korean War, and then listing the major battles from each.

Travel Notes

On my first visit in 2020, the capitol interior was closed for tours due to the COVID 19 epidemic, and the capitol grounds were barricaded due to recent protests against racially biased policing from several violent incidents across the country. The Confederate Soldiers Memorial shown below, had already been removed. Reports indicate that the base was moved to a Civil War section of a local cemetery, and the upper section was in storage at an undisclosed location. Relocation to the cemetery is what was done in my hometown. I’ve seen it, and it certainly seems more appropriate.

The North Carolina State Capitol in 2020, and the Confederate Monuments, To Our Confederate Dead, 1895, and Henry Lawson Wyatt, 1911, that were removed from Union Square.

A second Confederate sculpture, which has also been removed, is that of Henry Lawson Wyatt, who died in 1861. He was a member of the North Carolina Volunteers, and is thought to be the first casualty of the Civil War. His sculpture is by John Borglum, 1911, who later produced the sculpture of Charles Brantley Aycock.

Headed home, author David Smitherman.

This trip was part of a multi-day journey on my way home from Boston, where I had visited sites in Fairfax and Richmond Virginia, and finally the North Carolina State Capitol. The scenery across North Carolina, and especially the Appalachian Mountains, are truly beautiful, so be sure to check out the overlooks along the way.

Notes and References

Story and photographs are by David Smitherman, with data collected from onsite inscriptions, brochures, Wikipedia, and Google Maps.

Portrait of Abraham Galloway, Underground Railroad, by William Still, page 150–151, Porter & Coates, Philadelphia, 1872.

Confederate Monument images, To Our Confederate Dead, and Henry Lawson Wyatt, are from Google Street View, 2015.

Lunsford Lane image from book, Lunsford Lane, by William George Hawkins, 1863.

Henry Owl image is from the Lenoir Rhyne College year book, 1927, and the University of North Carolina at:

Site visits were made on December 6, 2020, and August 29, 2022.



David Smitherman

Retired architect and space architect from NASA. Married with a growing family. Currently into travel, historical architecture, photography and genealogy.